To the Editor:
Recently I read the green Huntress Sports sales presentation binder given to MVC members. The document contains pages with columns of “simple facts.” Many of the “facts” are opinions. Many “facts” are not documented. Many thorny issues are glided over.
Although my basic response to the project is that of an environmentalist, I decided to inform myself from reliable, unbiased sources — having no commercial interest — on documented facts regarding other aspects of the issue: player health, maintenance and installation costs, and fitness for purpose of natural versus synthetic grass playing surfaces.
Injury fact: A recent study of high school sports undertaken by the University Hospitals Sports Medicine Institute, physician-researchers from University Hospitals, Case Western Reserve University, and UH Sports Medicine Institute found that “athletes were 58 percent more likely to sustain an injury during athletic activity on artificial turf. Injury rates were significantly higher for football, girls and boys soccer, and rugby athletes. Lower extremity, upper extremity, and torso injuries were also found to occur with a higher incidence on artificial turf.” Read in full: “Artificial Turf Versus Natural Grass,” bit.ly/Turfinjuries.
Injury fact: The NFLPA has gathered data on player injuries. The NFLPA president, J.C. Tretter, wrote in August 2020, “The unforgiving nature of artificial turf compounds the grind on the body we already bear from playing a contact sport … The data supports the anecdotes you’ll hear from me and other players: Artificial turf is significantly harder on the body than grass … Specifically, players have a 28 percent higher rate of noncontact lower-extremity injuries when playing on artificial turf. Of those noncontact injuries, players have a 32 percent higher rate of noncontact knee injuries on turf, and a staggering 69 percent higher rate of noncontact foot/ankle injuries on turf compared to grass … NFL clubs should proactively change all field surfaces to natural grass. This data is clear, so everyone involved with our sport should be similarly motivated to make this switch.” Read in full: bit.ly/NFLfield
Heat fact: Tom Serensits, the manager of Penn State’s Sports Surface Research Center, summarizes the findings of a study of heat reduction of artificial turf: “There is no ‘magic bullet’ to … lower the surface temperature of synthetic turf. Reductions of five or even 10 degrees offer little comfort when temperatures can still exceed 150°F.” Read in full: “Is there any way to cool synthetic turf?” at sturf.lib.msu.edu/article/2011jun20.pdf.
Maintenance cost fact: A common misconception — one reinforced in the Huntress presentation — is that synthetic turf is cheap to maintain. According to Cornell University’s Sports Field Management website, synthetic turf is more expensive than grass both to install and to maintain. From the “routine maintenance” list are four items to be done before or after each game; three items are “frequently” or “weekly to monthly”; plus the big-ticket yearly items. Plus the machines. Read in full: safesportsfields.cals.cornell.edu/synthetic-turf (includes “Health Impacts” comparisons).
Fitness-for-purpose fact: The American Society for Testing and Materials states, “A dense, uniform, smooth, and vigorously growing natural turfgrass sports field provides the ideal and preferred playing surface for most outdoor field sports. Such a surface is pleasing to the spectators and athletes. [It] also increases playing quality and safety by providing stable footing for the athletes, cushioning their impact from falls, slides, or tackles, and cools the playing surface during hot weather … Sand is chosen as the primary construction material for two basic properties, compaction resistance and improved drainage/aeration state.” Read in full: astm.org/Standards/F2396.htm. This is an abstract of the ASTM’s full construction guide for high-value grass playing fields. See also the consultant Jared Minnick’s positive assessment of the Island’s sandy soils for this purpose: http://bit.ly/MVCfieldfile.
The Huntress presentation reflects a TINA (there is no alternative) mindset regarding artificial turf. Facts regarding injuries, maintenance costs, and fitness for purpose appear to me to have been massaged or omitted to further this TINA view in the Huntress presentation. (It beats me why taxpayer monies were used to pay for what is basically a sales pitch, not an evenhanded assessment of different options.)
Clearly, TIAA — there is an alternative — that is better than artificial turf. TIAA is fact — not “wishful thinking,” not “emotion,” not “you just don’t care about athletes.”
Make no mistake, the stakes are high, not only for the Island. An artificial turf manufacturer would love to “bag” Martha’s Vineyard as a showcase for his product. If we allow artificial turf here, we will have to deal not only with the actual problems created by the turf and infill, but also with the galling awareness that our Island is being exploited as a selling point to pitch a harmful and costly product elsewhere.
Both synthetic and natural turf fields are major investments that require significant maintenance. But synthetic turf is an investment whose value starts to degrade as soon as you have bought it, declining to null in about eight years. What financial advisor would recommend such an investment? Good financial advisors place their clients’ money in a combination of growth and income investments. That would be natural grass fields. Their value increases for decades into the future while generating “dividends” in the form of avoided environmental and injury costs; positive environmental “services” performed by a grass surface; pride in providing a sustainable model for top-notch field-sports infrastructure; and the potential to develop a horticultural program preparing students for a well-paid profession in natural-grass sports-field management. Looks like a no-brainer to me.